Essentials of Game Studies
In his seminal work The Spaces Between, Richard Bach created the now famous definition of the word “game.” According to Bach, a game is “a competition with fixed rules whereby one or more persons attempt to beat the others in a game.” Clearly, some games are close to this description, and even fixed rules sometimes seem important enough to constrict behavior and set boundaries for the whole game.
However, Bach goes on to define the word further, providing examples of specific types of games. For example, in roulette there are two types: house and spread. In the house game, one player acts as if they are betting against all the other players, trying to pick off the other players before time runs out. In the spread game, the players are allowed to place their bets anywhere along the two edges of the table. Each type of game can have its own definitions, but they often overlap significantly.
This overlap is significant because it means that both previous definitions may be wrong. If, for example, players act in accordance with the previous definitions, then one person’s winnings in e.g. roulette might mean that they won a thousand dollars, which could happen if they hit on a four or a five pair, but might not because the last five pairs weren’t played. So these previous definitions are incorrect, and a different equation must be used to calculate player winnings. This is why many people play roulette and use a spreadsheet or other computer program to calculate their probability of winning.
So how do you know if you’re playing a good game or a bad one? In many regards, a good game is when all the rules of the game are followed, and players follow them consistently. For example, in baccarat when a player wins, they must leave by surrendering their last card (if there are any left). A bad game, by contrast, is when the players stop playing according to the rules and often run off with their winnings, pocketing them and then leaving the table.
Many game scholars believe that all GAMES have a set of underlying meanings that are intended to express something about the human race, society, etc. It may be about the stakes in a race, about people’s psychology, etc. For example, in poker the cards are represented as being representative of the body of water the game is played in, the colour of the cards, the person to beat (the banker), etc. The meanings of all these things are part of the GAMES defining them. This is why definitions are important, because different games will often require different definitions.
That said, I think that any essentialist definition of GAMES should be treated with caution. Because it seems to me, that all GAMES have an underlying definition, even if it is a very basic one. And that core definition is likely to vary from person to person, and from time to time. I therefore suggest a flexible view of game definitions, including a recognition that these definitions are themselves subject to change.